It is my honor and privilege to greet you as the Rabbi of TOLOLS. I would like to take a few minutes to share my vision, which is certainly appropriate since hazzan can mean “visionary”, and I am both an ordained Rabbi and Hazzan. Permit me to share a bit of history.
When King Solomon supervised the construction of the First Holy Temple, it was clear that outside of the Pilgrimage Festivals, since most Israelites did not live within a reasonable distance of Jerusalem, and Uber’s Camel Service was in its’ infancy, the vast majority of Israelites were disconnected from the worship service. What sprang up to fill this void? A new invention that we call the synagogue. But who would lead this service? What would be done, since sacrifices were only permitted at the Holy Temple? Communities selected and dispatched young men to go live in Jerusalem for one year, perhaps longer, to observe all of the Holy Temple services, bring back what they learned, share this and lead the people. Musical notation would not be invented for another two millennia, so these young men relied upon memory and scraps of parchment that they could afford to take notes. They would return to their communities to share what they learned, and thus began what we know to be prayer services in synagogues, with the supervisor being called a hazzan. Here we have the origin of what some might call the second oldest Jewish profession. I leave to your imagination what some call the oldest one.
I stand on the shoulders of the ones who came before me, to quote the songwriter and fellow cantor Doug Cotler, stretching back from the earliest days up to the present. The role has, and continues to, evolve, not only meeting the needs of all worshippers who call me to lead them in prayer, but so much more. If I could describe it in just a few words, I would call myself your Jewish tour guide. We are all on a journey called life, and I am here to guide you through it, nudging you to come to shul a little more frequently, learn a bit more Torah, perform just one more mitzvah, help you survive becoming a Bat/Bat Mitzvah and beyond, offering a listening ear, being there in your times of joy with two glasses and a nice single malt, in your saddest of times with a box of tissues, and holding your hand while in the hospital. I aim to craft a relationship with everyone, meeting you where you are without preconceived expectations, eager and ready to accompany you on your journey.
While I would hope that you have enjoyed my davening, sermons and Torah reading this Shabbat, in truth, that is only four hours of what I do, with so much more intimately tied to getting to know you and your needs. It is so much more than music. Imagine crafting a Shabbat morning service that simultaneously meets the needs of all of you: those who like traditional cantorial recitatives; those who want to study the Torah portion; those who are not yet comfortable with Hebrew and desire more English; those who want lots of congregational participation; those who want Yoga and meditation; those who want more Chassidic niggunim and chants; those who want a family service; those who want to see their children participate. Oy! One style does not fit all. That is where building relationships comes in, meeting each of you where you are at, and devising a personal tour for you that builds upon what you have experienced. It’s not only about how many people would/could/should learn to chant Torah, Haftarah or Megillot, lead the davening for any service, have the skills to lead a Seder or chant the Kiddush on Friday evening. The teaching of skills is not the difficult part. It’s finding the right combination that suits your needs and moves you along with me in your journey.
Anyone who has been on an organized tour knows that a significant part of the enjoyment is based upon the relationship that you create with your tour guide. A great tour guide makes for a great trip. Permit me to share a brief digression that confirms my statement.
I led a Congregation trip to Israel to celebrate my son becoming a Bar Mitzvah, and arranged for a tour guide, and he was an American who had made Aliya many years prior. One part of our trip was ascending to Mt. Carmel, which I had never done. If you have not scaled it before, it is a rich, historic location, especially as I recalled the amazing conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. When you stand on the peak of Mt. Carmel, there are large painted arrows pointing to different locations in Israel and beyond, with a magnificent unobstructed view of the valley below. As I stood there in awe of the site, its’ great historical significance and the heavenly view, the tour guide, Jonathan, played on his iPod “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – not the original by Bob Dylan, but the classic recording by Guns N’ Roses. The music just elevated me, and I have not, nor will I ever, forget that moment. That’s what a great tour guide can do.
That’s my goal and vision – to be a great tour guide for you who can provide a “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” moment that you will never forget. My door will always be open. Please come over and introduce yourself, and let’s begin the tour together!